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A Python Invasion And The Future Of The Everglades

Burmese pythons, slithering all over the Florida Everglades. We’ll get up close with the cost of the python takeover.

In this 2009 photo provided by the National Park Service, a Burmese python is wrapped around an American alligator in Everglades National Park, Fla. The National Academy of Science report released Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, indicates that the proliferation of pythons coincides with a sharp decrease of mammals in the park. (AP)

In this 2009 photo provided by the National Park Service, a Burmese python is wrapped around an American alligator in Everglades National Park, Fla. The National Academy of Science report released Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, indicates that the proliferation of pythons coincides with a sharp decrease of mammals in the park. (AP)

It’s python heaven in the Florida Everglades these days. And python hell for just about every other species a python can swallow. The Burmese python is anything but native to Florida. It came in as import and pet. Broke out as abandoned pet and hurricane runaway.

Now, the Burmese python is the apex predator of the Florida Everglades. Thousands and thousands, eating everything in sight. Raccoon populations down 99 percent. Opossum, 98 percent. Deer, 94 percent. Fox and bobcat and alligator, down the hatch.

This hour, On Point: the python takeover in the Everglades.

-Tom Ashbrook


Michael Dorcas, professor of biology, Davidson College, he’s the author of the recent report, Severe mammal declines coincide with proliferation of invasive Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park. He is also the author of Invasive Pythons in the United States: Ecology of an Introduced Predator.

Carol Mitchell, deputy director of the South Florida Natural Resources Center at the Everglades National Park.

Jeffrey Fobb, captain in the Miami Dade Fire-Rescue, in the anti-venom unit. He is also an authorized python removal agent at the Everglades National Park. You can find photos of his snake removal efforts at his Facebook page here.

From Tom’s Reading List

Orlando Sentinel “Here’s hoping a recent shocking report on the environmental devastation caused by Burmese pythons in the Everglades finally squeezes some sense into the nation’s antiquated, after-the-fact policy on invasive species.”

Christian Science Monitor “The problem isn’t just a growing number of hungry snakes. Certain mammals native to Florida have no recent experience with large predatory snakes.”

Washington Post “As the climate changes, and temperatures warm, snakes can go on the move. During two cold snaps that hit Florida in winters that started in 2009 and 2010, many pythons survived by burrowing into the earth and by finding deeper, warmer water to ride out the low temperatures. Dozens of snakes perished and were disposed of by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but what didn’t kill those that survived might have made them stronger, Dorcas said. ”


This photo gallery shows pythons captured in Florida’s Everglades National Park.

Video: Python Attacks Alligator

This video shows a Burmese python attacking an alligator in the Florida Everglades.

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  • JustSayin

    Will it spread all the way to South America, and meet the Anaconda?

  • http://www.facebook.com/roy.cuellar Roy Cuellar

    Another example of the Colombian Exchange that began in 1492. The hope now to abate the problem is more cold weather and human intervention. Man has plenty of experience with hunting other species to extinction. So let’s assign a bounty and get on with it.

    • Still Here

      How about we make burger meat out of them? 

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Moda already exceeds safe mercury levels?

        • Modavations

          Terry I speak three languages.I speak pretty decent Italian.Let’s call it 3 and a half languages.Just how many languages do you speak.It’s often said that people who draw attention to their exploits as  Volunteer Firemen/women  are often Fire Bugs.It is said that people who gripe about child molesters are often molesters of their own children.Just what is the significance of the name Terry Tree Tree.

  • Clint Vislay

    The Everglades has been neglected and abused for decades – for a century at last. This is just the most recent in a long line of human failure to adequately protect this wonderful resource.

  • Jdreher626

    has anyone tried training dogs to find the pythons?

  • Oceanicgyre

    As environmental stewards, humans are constantly making the mistake of assuming we know everything.  We are unable to predict what an exotic species is capable of, as far as establishing itself in a new environment.  This has played out over and over again with both exotic plants and animals.  The guest on the show said that 15 years ago they didn’t believe that pythons could have survived in the wild in Florida.  Why not??  Of course it’s possible!  There needs to be very strict regulations on exotic pets, or better yet, just don’t allow them, because the risks are too great.  If what the guest says is correct, over 90% of many mammal groups in the Everglades are gone.  This must have serious implications for the health and stability of this ecosystem.

  • Anonymous

    I had seen on Nat Geo, I think, where the big breeding barns with bins of tons of baby pythons, had been taken by the winds of the hurricane and thrown all over Florida. These were pet snake breeding industries. Mother nature hit and just threw them so then it became an infestation of them. Also, as a warning to people who want to “own” big  squeezing snakes….a sad story. When my husband and I lived in Dallas in the 80′s…a python that possibly had not been fed properly, lifted huge plants off it’s glass cage and killed a toddler. The parents, if I remember this correctly, were held negligent AND lost their child.  I would have to say, no thanks to owning a big snake. Glad I live up north where they do not exist like that, as least not yet.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      The caption about the yellow six-foot python pictured, says it broke out of its aquarium, and strangled a 2 year-old girl.  Could that be the one?

      • Modavations

        Firstly how many languages do you speak.Secondly what type of flowers are appropriate for a woman known for hysterics on Valentines Day

      • Stillin

        I just looked at this but I am not sure. I lived in Dallas from 1978-about 1986 so it was then. I just remember hearing it and thinking are you kidding me, it was just such a bad thing to have happened. Dallas , when I was there, had worse which I will not mention here. Just weird, mean, deadly stuff, in the “beautiful” mextroplex.

  • Quadraticus

    Does anyone else think it’s dumb to try to preserve nature in its present state until the end of time? Biodiversity is the result of billions of years of *change* resulting from migration and natural selection. Humans may be changing the rate at which that change takes place, but a million years from now most current species will be extinct and have been replaced by something else, humans or no.

    This strikes me like Bill Buckley standing athwart history, yelling “STOP!” Or like trying to stamp out file sharing: all it takes is one person to rip a movie or transport a python across the ocean, which means there’s effectively no way to stop it. Raising awareness won’t really accomplish anything under such circumstances because the barrier to change is simply too low.

    • Tina

      IF the punishment were really indicative of the environmental damage done, it would probably help a lot.  And since the profitability of the activity makes fines useless as a deterrent, then mandatory prison time should be the only kind of punishment allowed by law.  The concept could also be applied to major corporations who willingly do slipshod work resulting in major oil spills, desecration of water supplies, etc.  Let’s see long prison terms, not fines — twenty years to life — for willingly breaking laws and regulations meant to protect an ecosystem.  Then lawmakers should consult with knowledgable scientists about what would constitute willing violation of the laws and regs.  With oil companies, let’s say, a sizable number of back-up systems could be required for certain vulnerable systems, rather than just one back up, or even two; then, if these back-ups aren’t present and functioning, and known to be functioning, then willing disregard is punishable by 20 years to life prison terms — preferably even BEFORE a spill takes place.   With pythons:  none may be imported, sold, mated, raised, etc.  If someone imports one or several or many:  mandatory 20 years to life prison terms.  The havoc that occurs from willful environmental degradations demands strong punishments, in part because the consequences probably grow geometrically rather than arithmetically.   

      • Terry Tree Tree

        Very Good Idea!

      • Modavations

        Figures you two are communing.Those snakes are throw aways from pet owners who didn’t want them,or couldn’t handle them.Like Terry,these people are attention getters and go to the mall with a snake around their necks.Look at me,look at me.Same story with alligators in the sewers of Manhattan

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  • Yar

    Is there a simple way to sterilize these snakes?  Could radiation or surgery be used to sterilize all imported pet snakes?Understanding the mating signals may serve as a way to control population,  if a hormonal scent is emitted and can be manufactured or extracted it might be used in traps to attract and catch the snakes.  What happens as the snake population peaks and the pray population crashes?  Think lemming migration, but instead of lemmings, a plague of pythons. 

    • Modavations

      How much per snake will that cost?Let’s establish the bureau of snake sterlization.We can have seperate agencies for gopher snakes,boas,etc,.Think of all the new hack jobs.

      • Still Here

        How about we heli-drop 8x10s of Pelosi?  It can’t hurt.

  • SteveV

    The most invasive species in Florida is…man. We’ve been upsetting the balance
    of nature for centuries and this is but another example (another being the
    imported Wild Boar from Russia that is now an invasive causing untold damage in
    many states). And don’t get me started about cats, those friendly little
    creatures that have killed just about all the birds, chipmunks, snakes and
    butterflies in my neighborhood. What a destructive species we are.

  • Claire

    I’ve studied animal behavior for years. Amazing to know that there is such a thing as an “alligator whisperer”. I learn something new everyday.

  • Michele

    What is the US Fish & Wildlife Service doing about this?  Why is there not an extermination policy in place?

    • Don Gaither

       Exactly, if there was free beer & an open season for a month on these snakes once or twice a year believe me the History Channel or National Geographic Channel would have a new show & the red necks would find a way to hunt them into extinction.  Florida could even charge for license.  What do y’all think?

    • SteveV

      Michele, I volunteer for the USF&W Service and can answer your question.
      It’s political. What the biologist would like to do, and what they are allowed
      to do, are 2 different things. Take the politics out and problems like this
      would have been prevented. Imagine being a cop and having a
      government committee review every ticket you write, before you’re allowed to write it.

    • Willy

      It’s all B.S., the racoons and oppossums all died from a strain of distemper brought south by the influx of coyotes from Georgia and the Carolinas!  Native Florida mammals become somewhat immune to the local strains of diseases but they don’t have any resistance to the new strains introduced by ‘northern’ invasive mammals.

  • Bob

    SteveV, I’m with you. Man continues to do things that upset the natural order of life. This is a reptilian version of KUDZU in my view.

  • Matt

    Controlling pythons and banning import of dangerous, invasive species requires government action and regulations. How likely does this seem in today’s political climate where many candidates run on an anti government platform: protecting our environment equates taking away our freedom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charley-Wooley/741206578 Charley Wooley

    Were talking about going after burmese pythons because their eating too many mammals?
    How many mammals do we eat?
    How many species have we killed off?

    I’m not for introducing any more exotic snakes into the everglades, but now that they’re here its survival of the fittest.

    And who are we to stand in the way of the natural process of evolution?

    • Tina

      It’s not entirely a “natural process of evolution”.  It’s a process driven by both greedy people and passive-aggressive people.  

      • Modavations

        are you related to TTT?.Greedy rich,you’re pathetic

        • Terry Tree Tree

          Her name starts with a ‘T’?

    • Chz Wo

      you Idiot! How many pythons did you release?

    • Toadflax

      It’s the natural process of evolution speeded up by millennia. The native mammals haven’t had time to adapt to a predator like the python, and won’t ever get the chance apparently. Not exactly a level playing field.
      It’s a moot point anyway. If you value native fauna and
      diversity, you’re going to feel some pain though.

    • Modest Proposer

      Who’s blaming the snakes?
      The problem are the idiots who think these snakes are cool, then they unleash them on the environment.
      Same thing with Asian Carp and Snake Heads.
      Stupid people.
      I’m for a no bag limit on pythons and the idiots that keep exotic pets!

  • Costly

    One of the problems is the pet industry, responsible for the import and culture of the non-native species does not maintain any responsibility or liability in the case of a species being released and becoming invasive.  Pet industry representatives lobby to prevent increased management, State agencies reluctant support effective predictive risk assessments that lead to restricting potentially invasive species and hear and whining when restrictions are put on. If a company or person imports these species or cultures them within the US as part of their business, they should at least be financially responsible for supporting the management and control of these species if they do become feral.

  • Alan

    Excellent program, and what a video!  Go Gators!

  • Slipstream

    It doesn’t sound like there is any “fix” to this problem.  I am reminded of the jungles I saw in Costa Rica and Thailand.  There are large carniverous snakes in those places too, but they are part of the ecosystem.  They do kill mammals but they haven’t wiped them out – not even close.  There are deer and raccoon and plenty of other creatures in Central America.

    This makes me wonder if these snakes would not have eventually headed north on their own, without the help of dimwitted pet owners.  From what I heard my guess is that we will have to learn to live with the python as part of the ecosystem in the Everglades and possibly elsewhere.

    • Kronosmoat

       Wow, we can’t drill because it will mess with the animals, but we can release and unnatural predator that is destroying the natural ecosystem and that’s ok?  And they are eating the pets, now they have to keep all pets and small children indoors?  Kill all the damn snakes

  • q1latina

    i love this video even though i cant see it

  • Q1latina

    love it

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  • NrthOfTheBorder


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